The Etnies team combined euro contests and filming for their video (yes, it’s finally coming to an end) and went on street missions between the Street League in Munich – where Conny Mirbach followed their steps for a few days – and the Mystic Cup in Prague. Besides Chris Joslin, Barney Page, Matt Berger, Nick Garcia, and Trevor McClung, there was, of course, also the brand’s German ambassador Willow on the trip. After the contest craziness was over, the footage stacked and his teammates had left again, we grabbed Willow to talk to him. About how it is when the crew comes by for a visit or also, the other way round, when he’s visiting the states. With regard to the theme of this issue and also to his autobiography “The German Hammerking” that was published in July, we asked him about topics like travel anxiety, cultural misunderstandings, or lack of esteem from US companies.
For sure, but everything is going really well. I’m pretty much done. Sure, it could always be better, but you know how it is: you have what you have. And I’m satisfied with what I did so far, but I still wanna get two bangers.
I think we started talking about it like four years ago, but it has always been delayed because there were many shoe projects interfering for which the footage needed to be used. And we also had to do little clips for the tour videos. But the video isn’t intended to be super long. Everybody gets like three minutes. It will be short and crisp and significant.
Julian Davidson, Nick Garcia, Chris Joslin, Ryan Sheckler, Trevor McClung, Aidan Campbell, Barney Page, myself, and David Reyes – and Matt Schlager… eh, Matt Berger.
Newest newcomer… for sure. He’d bring the company back to the top again, right? He’d be talked about everywhere.
"If you don’t post a new trick every week or so, people will start asking whether or not you quit skating? Maybe I’m too old by now, but I don’t really get it."
Yeah, I mean… fuck. A skateboarder nowadays is basically his own company because of Instagram. And a full length video is hard because you need to sort out a lot of things to get to a solid three-minute part. You always have to wait for the others to be done, too. And because the world is so fast-paced, you will be forgotten sooner. Back then, you released a VHS and were done. Now, you always have to be up to date and post tricks… I mean it’s normal nowadays that you just post a nollie tre flip down a ten stair and not save it for any project. As I said: if you don’t post a new trick every week or so, people will start asking whether or not you quit skating? Maybe I’m too old by now, but I don’t really get it. The business changed, but I’m really happy to be able to film for a full length. For smaller companies, it’s probably not really relevant anymore, because all the costs are way too high and it costs a lot of time, too. But ever since the project has been set up, we were backed 100% – including budget for tours and so on. And we’re talking about street skating not demo tours. Etnies is making it possible for sure. We are back at traveling around the world.
I went to the States a couple of times, toured through all of Europe, and we were talking about going to Japan, but that’s really expensive. Normally, it’s the cities where some of the team riders are from and know all the spots. But everybody has a personal travel budget, which can be used freely between going on tours with the team.
I told myself to not go on tour for more than three weeks in a row, cause it sucks to be separated from my family for that long and it doesn’t make sense anyway. After three weeks, the fire is out and I’m totally done. I just want to go back home then. Taking a plane or traveling in general are pretty chill again. I’ve learned so much in a therapy. When I’m on the plane now and there is somebody next to me afraid of flying, I can help them deal with it.
In the USA, I’m kind of lost because I never know where we’re gonna go and I only know the spots from videos and stuff. In Europe, it’s a completely different thing. I’m always in touch with people who are skating the spots and know about what’s possible and what’s not. That’s completely different in the States because most spots only exist for like half a year… It happened a couple of times that I went to spots that were leveled just recently. Last time I went, it was more or less like a vacation trip. I had my own car and just did my own thing, went to the skateparks, and hit the streets a couple of times. It’s definitely different in Europe. Overseas, I’m mostly depending on other people. Here, not at all.
In Germany for sure. Spain and England are up to Barney, I have some homies in Portugal. I mean you could plan out everything when you go to the States obviously, but it’s always better to have someone who makes some suggestions.
"Sometimes I really have to explain to people that the building they are damaging is older than… I don’t know… the entire USA."
Exactly. In Germany, I already skated most of the spots and I have the tricks I wanna do in the back of my mind. It’s a lot more spontaneous in the US. It’s kind of like the spot decides which trick I’m going to do, not myself. Here, I decide which trick I’m gonna do at which spot.
I have seen that the Americans or wherever they came from thought: “Oh, this is Germany. You can drink on the streets and make a lot of noise.” This isn’t true for all of them, but there are a lot of people who act really intrusively to locals. They keep on insisting and asserting to their rights and stuff and then they get in a bunch of arguments. It happened a lot of times that those guys were self-important and confident and never backed down. This always creates misunderstandings, also because of language barriers. In Bavaria, older people obviously don’t speak perfect English and there were a couple of incidents where I had to go: “No, you got it wrong. He meant it differently,” or something like that. Here, it’s always me who had to settle the dispute. Of course when you skate at a museum and lift up a paving slab, you’re gonna get in trouble. I mean you can do it, but when people come up to you and complain, you’re putting it back the way it was. Sometimes I really have to explain to people that the building they are damaging is older than… I don’t know… the entire USA. It’s outrageous to even act like a shithead afterwards – yelling and swearing at the security or the owner. And Europeans in the USA… Because we kind of bring the “Pontus effect” over to the States, a lot of the European skaters stand out. This makes them act… I don’t know, maybe you can call it too European. Maybe cheeky is the right word, but maybe I’m too sensitive. They just have this vibe.
Exactly. This has gotten my attention a couple of times before. It’s bad. Maybe I’m just living in my harmonious world and I don’t want to hate, but I’ve seen it a bunch. However, this is a free land. You can say what’s on your mind.
Definitely. It all changed because of companies like Sour. I mean we had sick skaters back in the days, too, but now we are connected through Instagram and social networks. The whole world gets to see what’s going on in Europe and we have a lot to show when it comes to skating, style, tricks, art, graphics, and all that stuff. We’re not living under a rock. I think that some American skaters would like to ride for European companies. Back in the days, that wasn’t the case at all. It’s more or less balanced out today. A couple of years ago, the biggest goal was to ride for American companies. Now it’s like: “Uhhh, actually, I don’t want to ride for a US company. I’d rather like to be involved in small projects and support small companies.”
I haven’t come to any conclusions yet. By now, I’d totally be satisfied to support a small European company. I’m a bit older now and have seen a lot of the industry – the positive and negative sides of it. I have come to the conclusion that I want to use my name to back people who are making a small company which runs on a lot of love, blood, sweat, and tears. I’d like to look for something to get involved and bring in my ideas. Not just because of skating itself, but I also want the whole package. I mean life has to go on, especially when I’m not going to be able to professionally skate one day.
"I have come to the conclusion that I want to use my name to back people who are making a small company which runs on a lot of love, blood, sweat, and tears."
That would be an option as well and a really cool one. But then I wouldn’t only want to skate but also integrate other things I do, like upcycling and graffiti or street art. It would also be cool to build ramps and combine them with art. Not only core skating but all the other strings attached to it as well. Maybe you can make a comedy sitcom. I don’t know… I haven’t made any plans.
That was one thing I worried about the most. I asked the people at Etnies whether it would have any impact on my status there if I lost my board sponsor. Since I have always been so loyal to the company and went through a lot with them – team managers and marketing guys coming and going – they will leave me on. Also the German market is pretty big and the colorways are selling good. David Reyes has no board company either – ever since Mystery went out of business like five years ago. And Trevor has also been Am on Plan B for like ages. All this has changed as well. The most important thing is to activate your Instagram account and show the team managers that you’re skating and what you’re doing. You can’t just chill all day. But the Etnies TM, for example, sees how active I am, that I’m still mobilizing my power, going strong, and partly succeeding with it. You can show that you have a big community and established yourself. You can’t rest, but since Europe is on the map now, it got a bit easier. But this can change really fast. I mean contracts are made to be broken. So I don’t know what they will come up with next and that’s not my decision. But what they told me was really positive.
Actually, I didn’t even really want to. I had to think a lot about it. At first, Chris [Haslam] told me about it and then the guys from Almost hit me up and told me that the company isn’t doing so well and that they are seeing if and how they are going to survive. This was a year ago. Afterwards, I thought: “Oh, okay. That sounds a bit strange.” And my gut was telling me that something is messed up. And then I met Chris again and it all ended up being true and he had quit. So the person on Almost that I was really close to was gone. The guy who pushed me to be in that position had left and this was kind of like a long lasting relationship and he broke up and I had to think about leaving the sinking ship. Or, well, I don’t know if it’s a sinking ship, cause they just turned Yuri [Facchini] pro. But I decided against the company and thought about doing my own thing and that was kind of a relief. The pressure was gone. If you have a pro board, you feel a bit pressured because you have to reach certain targets. Of course you lose some money, but it doesn’t make a huge difference. It’s not a lot of money. It’s only peanuts as long as you don’t ride for something like Primitive or Element or Plan B. The rest makes pretty much no money.
"If you have a pro board, you feel a bit pressured because you have to reach certain targets."
Or to make your other sponsors, who really want you to be pro, happy with a pro board. But there are companies that see you as a human being, as a character and they accompany you while you’re growing during all those years. They just trust you that whatever you’ll do will be okay. With those companies, you can cooperate really well and focus on doing things for them. Sounds a little bit harsh, but since I left Almost, I got more time to take care of Etnies or Skatedeluxe or Willow’s world.
I’ve heard December. If not December… at least the deadline will be in December. They’re not doing too much promo for it though. It will just be released. I’m excited how it will end up being.
Right, I don’t know which stuff exactly they’re gonna be using, but I got my five minutes together and said that I want to do those two tricks for me personally. It would be cool to prove to myself that I can get my act together once again. At my age, it’s not as easy as it used to be to hammer down those tricks.
No! No worries. Because of Instagram, I can film some one minute parts after the Etnies video. I’ll do more stuff like this and maybe I’ll film a video part for a new board company. Time will tell, but I’m definitely not done and have a lot of fun skating. As long as filmers come with me, I’ll go out filming. Even with 40, I guess. It’s just a part of me.